By: Marcus DeWare (pseudonym of a Guest Blogger who is a missionary in a high-security area)
I recently returned from an annual meeting of IMB colleagues. Serving on the field sometimes requires families and individuals to be isolated from co-workers. This annual meeting is a great time to congregate with co-laborers to worship God, encourage one another in our work, console those who are hurting, and to hear how our Master is moving among the various people groups we are targeting with the gospel.
On July 1, the IMB implemented a global restructuring and the changes will continue for several more months. The motif of change reverberated throughout our whole meeting. We have a new catalog of acronyms (and for anyone who has spent time with people from the Board, you know our company acronyms can be dizzying). We have a new leadership structure. We have new team groupings. The unreached people groups we are passionate about targeting are the heart of this re-organization. These changes hope to facilitate front-line workers to be freed up and better equipped in their task. These changes were more difficult for some than others.
I observed that the people who are affected most by these changes are the ones that are the most removed from front-line positions of evangelism and church planting. Most people I talked to at our meeting who are front-line personnel do not feel like their assignment or task has changed at all. The people who are experiencing the most change and uneasiness are those serving in support positions and administrative roles. Most everyone in our company does not like change, but we all embrace changes that will make us more useful for the sake of Jesus’ fame among the nations.
The changes we are experiencing as the missions agency of the SBC can help inform the changes the SBC may experience in the near future as a result of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. I was one of the first people to sign the declaration. I love our convention and am grateful to God for the opportunities to be discipled in an SBC church, trained for gospel ministry in an SBC seminary, and sent out to the global harvest through our SBC missions agency. I am expectantly looking forward to how the structure and arrangement of the SBC will be changing in the future so that all Southern Baptists may impact the globe for Jesus’ fame. Several observations from our recent annual meeting are useful the SBC in the coming months and years.
I am praying for the SBC and the GCR Task Force. I pray that through any changes the SBC may adopt that the convention will be more suited to do the work the gospel demands of us all as Southern Baptists. Change is inevitable. We can either impact the change or be impacted by it. Through proactive steps and the visionary leadership of godly men and women in our denomination I believe the SBC still can look to great days ahead for the purpose of reaching the nations. We exist as a cooperation of autonomous churches because of the gospel; we ought to maintain that gospel-centeredness through the changes and to the next generations.
Guest Blog by Steven A. McKinion
He is the Associate Professor of Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught Theology, Church History, Hermeneutics, and Historcial Theology classes at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. McKinion’s area of specialization is Patristic Theology. He holds the following degrees: B.A., Mississippi College; M.A., University of Mobile; Ph.D., King’s College, University of Aberdeen.
Second generation conservatives who have been addressing the trend of many 3gens to question the value of the bureaucracy of the SBC recognize that these 3gens are not asking for a seat at the SBC table, they are instead just leaving the room when they hear those around the table disrespect them, belittle them, or, even worse, talk about their own positions, power, or prominence. These 3gens think they have too much to do in their own churches to spend their time trying to earn some “right to have their voice heard” in the SBC.
Seeing the many current 2gen leaders are interested in keeping 3gen Southern Baptists within the SBC, I would like to identify four misconceptions about these 3gen Conservatives:
3gens want to run the SBC. It is a myth that 3gens simply want to run the convention. Such a misconception is the result of not only a misreading of what 3gens are saying, but a complete misunderstanding of the importance, or lack thereof, of the SBC in the weekly ministries of these leaders. While many younger SB pastors want to have titles in their state conventions or be invited to speak in revival meetings at other churches, the 3gens that I have been writing about could not care less about having a role in the SBC. Obviously, there are exceptions, but the 3gens I teach and hear from are not looking for positions or influence within the convention. In fact, the reason why so many 2gens have begun to take notice is because these younger pastors do NOT want a place at the SBC table. They don’t want to be trustees, revival speakers, or have meaningless titles in the state conventions. Instead, they are wondering what in the world their state conventions do that is of Great Commission value. The reason they are partnering with church planting groups like Acts 29, is because its networked churches actually succeed. The model of church planting, including on-going cooperation and partnership, works better to start biblical and Baptist churches than other models, including many of those within the SBC. Because many 3gens think the SBC bureaucracy is bloated, it is foolish to think they would want to run it. I think one cause for this misconception is that those who either already have power in the convention or the 3gens who want one day to have “earned” that power, fail to realize that not every one thinks SBC power is valuable. Such myopic thinking about the value of what one possesses often can lead one to project ones own ambitions to others.
3gens want their voice heard by SBC leaders. It is believed by some that younger SBs want a seat around the SB table where they can have input. This is a misconception, much like the former myth, that is based in the false belief that 3gens want their voice to be heard. They not only are not looking for a seat at the table, they are not even interested in being in the boardroom. Again, there are obvious exceptions, but the younger SBs who are the interest of 2gen leaders are not looking for a hearing. In their minds, the discussions in the SBC boardroom are about how to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic, quite useless. They do not have an interest of determining who the next president of the SBC will be, or what friends can be appointed to trustee positions, or how they can be invited to speak at another church. In the minds of 3gens, they want to be busy in their own churches rather than trying to control other churches. Now, whether their assessment of what 1gen leaders are doing is itself a misconception is another topic, and an important one. But to think that under 40 SBs are simply looking to have influence in the convention is a grave misunderstanding of what these 3gens are saying. Such a misunderstanding is often rooted in an arrogance regarding the positions one already possesses rather than any evidence that someone else is aspiring to that position.
3gens don’t love the SBC. What is the SBC? Technically, it is a brief business meeting once a year. Churches who pool their financial resources to support agencies, boards, and commissions (the IMB, NAMB, six seminaries, the ERLC, etc.) are allowed to send messengers (not delegates) to this business meeting for the purpose of appointing trustees to operate those agencies on behalf of the churches. But the SBC is more broadly the associative relationship of those churches that goes beyond fiduciary cooperation to a share set of beliefs, values, and distinctives. The SBC is a massive network of missional churches.
In my experience, the younger generation loves the mission of the SBC. The beliefs, values, and distinctives of the network of churches are shared among the various generations, including the 3gens. But at the same time, they question whether the bureaucracy of the convention is accomplishing its intended objective, which is to be a cooperative missionary effort. The 3gens I have observed love the seminary where they were educated and love the IMB and perhaps NAMB, but outside of those agencies they appear ambivalent. They may be mistaken to be ambivalent, but their love for the work of the convention should not be hidden by their lack support for all of the boards.
3gens don’t respect the CR or 1gen leaders. From observation it is more accurate to say that many 3gens do not know the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence. There may be practical reasons for this (e.g. Danny Akin and Johnny Hunt are on iTunes for free, while other sermons must be purchased), but it is also the case that many 3gens believe, perhaps mistakenly, that 1gen leaders do not value them as partners in the work of the convention. 3gens do not think their “forefathers” are not wise, they simply do not know them.
What complicates the matter vis-à-vis the relationship between some increasingly prominent 3gens and the SBC is the lack of direct influence by 1st generation leaders on 3gens. In part two of the series, I enumerated some ways I think the CR continues to influence younger SBs, but that influence has been indirect, mediated through leaders such as Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and James Merritt. There are exceptions; for example J.D. Greear’s PhD work was supervised by Paige Patterson. By and large, though, 3gens have sermons from Platt, Akin, Hunt, and Driscoll on their iPods, and not sermons from Vines, Patterson, and Rogers.
I don’t know all the reasons for this lack of exposure. Perhaps the second-generation influencers have been quicker to take advantage of newer media such as podcasting and social media. Many younger SBs, and their pastors, do not subscribe to tape ministries, but to podcasts. They rarely listen to over-the-air radio, and almost never to Christian radio. If they hear a John MacArthur sermon, it is because they downloaded it. John Piper was one of the first of their influencers to leave the expensive medium of radio for the relatively inexpensive one of the internet.
Perhaps 3gens have deliberately rejected the direct influence of 1st generation leaders for cultural reasons. They reject suits and ties as mandatory dress, and think the first generation places too much emphasis on certain apparel (fairly or not). They don’t think mandatory abstinence from beverage alcohol is fundamental to cooperation, and think the prior generation makes too much of this. From my experience, these leaders do not imbibe, but they also don’t think prohibition of such beverages is necessary. But cultural differences seem, in the end, to be of little consequence to the lack of direct influence of 1gens on 3gens. Culture seems to be a red-herring.
Regardless of the lack of direct interaction, in the end, the third generation is very much like the first generation. Theologically they are conservative inerrantists. They are committed to practicing Baptist distinctives, both broadly and more narrowly conceived. They preach the Gospel with fervor. They call sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus. They hate sin, but love sinners. They preach and practice missions at home and abroad. In all these ways, and more, they are the legitimate heirs of resurgence leaders.
So have the third generation conservatives who are enthusiastically supportive of the Great Commission Resurgence leaders such as Hunt and Akin rejected the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence, either consciously or unconsciously? I think they have not. Rather, they are the fruit of the CR. While 3gens may be a generation that knows not Patterson and Pressler, they are nonetheless the legacy of those great leaders. Some under 40′s will attend conferences where the speakers are predominately 1gen leaders. Other under 40′s will prefer conferences where 2gen leaders are the speakers. But both groups of younger SBs are the fruit of the CR.
Henry Chapin (for one generation) and Ugly Kid Joe (for another) recorded a popular song entitled, Cat’s in the Cradle, about a man whose busy-ness keeps him from time with his son. The failure of this man to be a good father comes back to haunt him later when his grown son is not interested in time with his elderly father.
An assessment of the breakdown in the relationship between 1gen and 3gen SBs would be fascinating, and is, I think, important, though beyond my scope here. But the lack of knowledge of 1gen leaders should not be read as a rejection of these men or the resurgence for which they fought. My paternal grandmother died a few years before my birth. I have no knowledge of her, obviously. But my lack of familiarity with her does not mean I disdain her. I do not invoke her name in conversation, but the older I get the more I become aware of her influence in my own life through my father. He doesn’t tell me to exhibit the positive characteristics from my grandmother’s life, I simply do so because he has influenced me. I never knew my grandmother, but her influence persists. Many 3gens have never met or even heard some 1gen leaders, but the influence of the CR persists in and through the ministries of 2gen leaders like Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and Thom Rainer (and many others). Although the legacies of certain men may not remain, the legacy of the CR certainly does.
Within the current call for a Great Commission Resurgence lives the legacy of the Conservative Resurgence. Young Southern Baptists who desire to see men, women, and young people around the world hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, become disciples of Jesus, and then grow to be disciple-making disciples are acting consistently with the ultimate aims of the CR. Even more importantly, the call of the GCR to organize the ministries of the SBC and her cooperating state conventions around the mission of the Gospel is at the heart of the call of conservative SBs who desired a renewal of the Convention for the sake of the Convention’s mission, not the Convention’s structure.
Nathan Finn’s recent post entitled “The Southern Baptist Generation Gap,” deals with the issue of the lack of younger Southern Baptist messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It is very clear there is a lack of participation in pastors who are under the age 40. This is one of the reasons we started Baptist21. We love the Southern Baptist heritage and the Southern Baptist distinctives. We believe the SBC has issues, as any group of sinful human beings does. We believe that the SBC is quite possibly the best, and perhaps the largest, organized attempt by a multitude of churches to reach the world for Christ. We believe, with some reform, the SBC could be more effective and successful than it already is. We are grateful for the cooperative program and the opportunities it allows: Theological Education, Pastoral Training, Church Planting, and World Missions. We believe that together we are more effective than apart. We believe the SBC is worth fighting for because when we fight for the Convention, we are fighting for a host of people who are serving Jesus Christ in fields across the world that are ripe for a harvest.
This post is intended to interact with Nathan Finn’s article, continuing the conversation on why there is a generation gap, proposing possible remedies for the gap, and casting a vision of what could come from closing the gap.
Why is there a Generation Gap?
We must answer the question “Why don’t younger pastors attend the Convention?” This list contains Nathan Finn’s reasons as well as some we have added, and we acknowledge that it is not exhaustive.
While many of these should be discussed, and at some point we hope to address them, at this time we will only deal briefly with two.
I. Some are disenfranchised, rightly or wrongly, by petty arguments, overly political ambitions, and traditional, non-gospel centered issues.
We must recognize up front that any group of people cooperating together for a common purpose and goal will have a political dimension. The question will be whether our political dimension will be petty and ungodly or gospel-centered and godly. Finn writes:
“I often wonder what role “fighting” plays in our generation gap. How many over-40 conservatives disengaged once there were no longer many moderates to fight? How many over-40 conservatives pulled out because they were tired of fighting moderates? How many over-40 conservatives quit attending because, once the real moderates were mostly gone, some Southern Baptists started inventing some new “moderates” so they could still have someone to fight? And since more than a few of our present squabbles are at least to some degree generational battles, here is the money question: how many under-40 conservatives never became involved because they suspect that many of the over-40 conservatives don’t really want their involvement (though their CP dollars are of course welcome)?”
We believe that Finn’s perception of the “under-40 conservatives” never getting involved because the “over-40’s” do not really want their involvement is partly true. There seems to be a growing division in our denomination. One side says, “the younger, postmodern generation is tainted with a fluid view of sin, therefore we mustn’t let them challenge, nor effect change in our denomination”, while the other side says, “our world is constantly changing and the way we go about changing culture and reaching people for Christ must be willing to change and adapt to be effective in our world.” Whether the younger generation perceives this rightly or wrongly, the perception is there and if many of the older generation want an SBC for their great-grandchildren, they must be the ones to reach out. We, as younger men, must also challenge younger men not to evidence so much immaturity and haughtiness as if we have all the answers. We need older men, and older men could benefit from younger men as well. This is part of the beauty of cooperation. Nevertheless, there seems to be a rift developing between these two sides, and we are now seeing young pastors who look at their ministries and say “I don’t have to deal with the pettiness, political ambitions, and traditionalism that is not gospel-centered to change the world for Christ.” Why should they waste their time in a denomination that in some circles reject them because of the way they do ministry, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, and the people that influence them?
Case in Point: Baptist Press on Mark Driscoll
The recent article by Baptist Press on Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle is an ironically timely illustration of this trend. Mark Driscoll’s track record over the last 10 years is staggering: 8,000 attend his church, 7 campuses, hundreds of churches planted through Acts 29 (with a 100% success rate), etc. Driscoll’s heart to reach as many people as possible for the glory of King Jesus is clear. What is also clear is the influence he has on millions of believers and especially young seminarians.
Some in our denomination believe that God is doing great things through Driscoll and that connecting with such a leader is beneficial for those training for ministry, young pastors, and even for current leaders in the denomination. Others have distanced themselves from him because of past occurrences of sin that, for some reason in their minds, can never be forgiven and still stain his current biblical, theological views. Not only have they distanced themselves from Driscoll, some have attacked his Acts29 network (like Missouri), and others have been critical of those who have allowed him to be involved in our SBC entities.
The article in the Baptist Press criticized Driscoll in an inaccurate and unfair way, and it gives an illustration of why some in the younger generations disengage. These kinds of things only aid their decisions to leave. Bombing raids on Gospel-centered brothers (who are not the enemy) turn many of them off. Baptist Press and others continue to castigate a man who has repented of past sins, and we as redeemed sinners must believe that the Cross takes care of sin. We should value repentance, not ignore it. We also continue to berate a man who preaches more gospel-centered sermons in a week than most pastors (including much of the SBC) preach in a year. We acknowledge that Driscoll is by no means perfect, nor is he always accurate. Some of what he does and says is edgy, radical, and stirs up controversy, but most of the time his approaches are not unbiblical. We in no way intend for this to be an endorsement of all things Driscoll, but we do believe he is doing valuable gospel work and he is not the one we need to launch our grenades on. We think that Dr. Alvin Reid’s Twitter comment says it well, “listen to his podcasts from SEBTS and decide for yourself if he’s friend or foe.”
This BP article gives a direct picture of what some in our denomination want to convey to those who may be influenced by men like Mark Driscoll. It seems that they are sending the signal “if this is you and your influenced by him, then change or stay out.” We at Bapist21, along with several “older-40” pastors and leaders in our denomination highly disagree with this inaccurate portrait of Mark Driscoll and ask that you stay in our denomination and let your voice be heard. We desire to affect change in our denomination and the world by remaining focused on what matters: “Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The reason we are willing to learn from someone like Driscoll is because we believe he shares this common vision with us and we hope you do as well.
Some Interactions with Quotes in the Baptist Press Article:
We are not even going to address the journalistic nature of this article, though others have. We turn to their thoughts.
“This graphic, found on Driscoll’s blog, warns that the material is not suitable for minor readers. However, there is no warning that such topics should be discussed only within the confines of marriage.”
It is wrong-headed to say that these topics should only be discussed in the confines of marriage; they must also be discussed with those that are moving toward marriage. That would include most of the congregation, though language should be tempered as appropriate for different ages. We need to be honest about these issues because this is what the younger generations (and everyone in the world) are talking about. If we can discuss these things anywhere it should be a church setting. Some people in your churches will not have parents to cover some of these issues and the church should recapture its authoritative role in instructing its people, not peers or a Google search.
“Schleuter also castigated Driscoll for linking the blog to a website, christiannymphos.org, which features articles on how a Christian wife can turn herself into a dominatrix, the glories of an-l and or-l sex, and the use of sex toys.”
We wish that Baptist Press had felt it necessary to post the disclaimer that Driscoll does with his link to this site.
“At a time when American young people are hit in the face with graphic sexuality in every facet of our culture, the church should be a safe haven where the sacredness and privacy of the act of marriage is respected by pastors,” Schleuter said in a press release. “Those with sexual issues need to receive private counseling — not sex seminars in a church auditorium.”
We would argue that Pastor Driscoll respects sexual issues more than many do, he at the least wants to help guide his congregation to a biblical view of sex. He never espouses premarital sex of any kind. He is intensely biblical in his view on sex and Schleuter is partially right, the church should be the safe place to discuss sex, which is what he was doing.
“For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it” Schleuter added.”
This is the most ironic quote of the article. Is this why the church’s record on sexual issues like premarital sex and divorce is in lock step with the culture? The divorce rate inside of our own churches is extremely high, which shows there is a lack of accurate preaching on the subject of sex and marriage. This is one of the reasons we are grateful that pastors are beginning to cover tough topics; this should have always been the case.
“He (Driscoll) has simultaneously embraced the spirit of the age when it comes to his treatment of sex. In the process, he is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture.”
Driscoll is engaging the spirit of this age, not embracing it. He is trying to help in an area that has spun out of control in our culture and in most of our churches. He is trying to redeem a gift from God. The Church is absolutely the place to do this.
If you will listen to Driscoll and read his books you will see a man that has a keen eye for the culture and how to address it biblically. It is our hope that we will figure out who the true enemies are. If we will not, as another blogger said to me, we will “continue to hear the splash of young seminarians jumping overboard.” We fear that this article is indicative of why the generation gap continues to grow.
N.A. and R.P.
Part II of this blog will be added tomorrow
Other Responses to the Baptist Press Article:
I want to briefly respond to three common objections that I hear concerning the “007″ lingo used by IMB workers around the world.
Objection 1 – Missionaries who speak in 007 language “lack trust in the sovereignty of God to protect them and their people group.” This is the most common objection, and it raises a good question. To be sure, God is sovereign. He is in control of everything. He is King of the universe. Nothing happens in this world that He does not cause or allow. At the same time, we never want to be presumptuous and act as if we can do and say anything we want without consequences. In my particular case, my fear is not for my life, but for the life of those with whom I will be sharing. Most likely the worst that can happen to me is to be labeled as a missionary and have this people group shun and ignore me. I would lose an audience. But for them, they could be beaten, rejected by family, and even killed for associating and befriending someone who is known as a “missionary.” I might lose an audience, but my audience might lose a life. Thus, the sensitive language is used to protect those who need to hear the message. Also, as Christians we must remind ourselves that we are a part of the bigger picture of God’s plan for all peoples and our mistakes not only have consequences on us but could affect others doing the same work in other countries around the world. For example, if a Missionary serving in a secure area is captured, this capture could affect all other workers with whom this person is connected. If one is not careful, an entire region or team of workers could lose access to their target people group. This applies as well to the short-term teams that come and join the work. Short-term teams have the dual ability to either greatly assist or greatly hinder the work on the field. In the end, this issue is less about sovereignty, and more about wisdom and discernment.
Objection 2 – Missionaries who use 007 language “are too worried about security and never get around to sharing Christ.” Of all the objections I hear, this is the most viable. Unfortunately, this is the case with some workers in some places around the globe (See previous post “When You Say Nothing At All…). Some people serve in areas so hostile to the gospel that they fear if they are too bold, they may lose their life. I am not in the most hostile environment, so I do not want to throw rocks at those who are. Others fail to share due to fear of sharing itself, not necessarily security concerns. However, whether in the secrecy of a home or in a job setting, we have the responsibility to share the message we came to share. Those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ are debtors (Romans 1) to the world. Just as the apostle Paul was obligated, so also are we obligated to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no excuse for a silent witness. That is an oxymoron. A witness is one who speaks out what he or she has seen and heard (Acts 4:20). I do not see this as an issue of secure or non-secure language, but an issue that must be dealt with on a personal level. If a worker cannot share a verbal witness, they need to be sent home.
Objection 3 – Missionaries who use 007 language “are silly to speak and talk this way. They are not military or CIA.” This objection used to be one that I embraced. My thinking was, “Perhaps, secure language is needed in SOME places, but this is silly and way too overboard for me.” This may be where many are in their opinion of this method of communication. I understand and can sympathize with you. However, two things occurred that changed my attitude on this issue. First, I came to realize that this kind of communication was not as much for my safety as it was for the safety of those who have never heard. It is one thing to blow my cover and lose an audience, but it is quite another for a young girl to be forced to marry an older Muslim man and deported because she associated with people known as “missionaries” (true story among my people group). Second, when I became an employee of the IMB, I agreed to submit to their authority (Romans 13). You see in the grand scheme it does not matter if I agree or disagree with the secure language. I am to submit to the authority that God has placed over me. Therefore, if my supervisor decides that it is vital for our team and short-term volunteers to use wisdom and discernment in our speech, then my duty is to submit to that instruction. I ask that all stateside will be mindful of this next time you go on a short-term trip to an area where secure language is the norm. As was stated earlier, people sometimes take this too far and overreact. I do not condone that. However, I also do not condone short-term workers coming with an attitude of arrogance and dismissing these warnings because they think they are silly or juvenile. There have been cases where short-term teams have done much to jeopardize work being done in secure areas. The sad truth is that it is the worker living there that is left to try and clean up the mess left by the short-term team. We must all remember that we are here to SERVE one another. Short term teams who come with an attitude to serve the missionary and the unreached people are a blessing from the Lord. I pray that we all will come with the attitude of learners and servants. I believe those are the vessels that God desires to use for His work and His purposes.
There is no doubt that this issue raises all kinds of questions about cross-cultural work, but I hope that it also reminds us that the Bible commands ALL followers of Christ to speak and live out the life of a witness. That is the command of the King. It does not matter if you live in Asia, Africa, or the US, you have a mandate and responsibility to verbally share the message of Jesus Christ. Let us no longer separate the secular and the sacred. If you are a teacher, coach, doctor, student, or whatever, you do that as one who follows Christ. Your identity is not found in your occupation. Your identity is in Christ (Galatians 3:27-29). Therefore, let this be a reminder for us all to share Christ in whatever environment we find ourselves. Whether it is in the Bible belt, the secular European cities, or the 10/40 window, Jesus Christ and Him crucified must be on our lips always. Anything less, is an insult to the King. In the end, this debate will continue. Some people will live so secretive and secure that they will be ineffective in sharing Christ with lost people. On the other hand, some people may refuse to use sensitive language and jeopardize work on the field. I pray that we all will continue to think through these tough issues. Engaging lost people with the gospel in this post 9/11 world changes some things. But one thing for us all to remember is that while the methods sometimes change, the message of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection never changes. Let us aspire, not to be like “Bond…James Bond,” but to be like Christ. He is the one who rules and reigns in a world that is not make believe.
One of the changes that took place within the IMB following this tragic attack was the emergence of “code language” among missionaries around the world. To be sure, the IMB has always been the king of acronyms and abbreviated language. The leadership of the IMB seems to have abbreviations for everything. Some people have even joked that those who work with the Board have a separate language altogether.
However, the events of 9/11 alerted IMB leadership that increased ambiguity in communication across the globe would be wise. Those who served in security sensitive areas around the world began to develop secure language. Over the years this language has grown and been adopted by many missionaries. In some cases, code names have even been given to IMB personnel serving in sensitive areas.
To God be the glory, the number of personnel serving in security sensitive areas is on the rise! People are trusting God and moving their families to areas of great spiritual darkness to bring the light of the gospel. It is an exciting time. Yet, one of the restrictions put upon the people serving in these security sensitive areas is that they are not free to state in public settings where it is they are serving. Therefore, you will hear people sharing the general region of the globe where they are serving but not the exact location or people group they are engaging (e.g. “East Asia”).
This is often frustrating to those back in the States who want to be able to pray specifically for a family on the field, but feel distant because of the security concerns. I must admit that I have struggled embracing this mode of communication. Conversations can be awkward, and at times, though unintentional, the impression can be given that those going to “secure” areas are more important than workers going to “non-secure” areas. Everything seems so sensitive and secretive. Churches in the states cannot speak freely of the whereabouts of the missionaries they commissioned and sent out. Is it possible that this protocol is creating more problems than it prevents?
Therefore, one must ask the question, “Is the 007 language too overboard?” Is it silly and pointless? Are people who speak and operate their ministries in this way completely overreacting? Perhaps. There is no doubt that some have reacted to events like 9/11 in ways that are unhelpful and even dishonest. Some missionaries will even “bend the truth” when asked what they are doing and where they are working out of fear that their true purpose will be discovered. An example may be a person who works in SE Asia and claims to be there as an English teacher, yet they never have once taught an English lesson. This is lying and it is wrong and these people need to read Proverbs 14:5 and Colossians 3:9-10.
On the other hand, serving in the midst of a people that is extremely hostile to missionary work, I now see the benefits, and in some respects, the necessity of being very careful with the language I use. That may open me up to the charge of paranoia, but allow me to explain. Many stateside assume the code language is employed to protect the missionary on the field. In some contexts, that is a true assumption. However, in most contexts (present included), the reason for sensitive language is NOT to protect the missionary, but to protect those to whom the missionary is ministering. This is a key reason why many cross-cultural servants do not want to be known as “missionaries.” There is no shame in that title (even though it never appears in scripture). The truth is that the title of missionary is not welcomed in many parts of the world. It can actually be a great source of offense. The term itself is NOT necessary in order for one to engage in the Great Commission.
Allow me to provide an example. Ted serves in North Africa. He works with a Muslim people group. He is able to enter that country and legitimately work as a certified engineer. Ted is a man of integrity and if he says he is doing engineering then that is exactly what he is doing. At the same time, and for Ted more importantly, he is an engineer that is not ashamed of his status as a follower of Jesus Christ. Ted will take every opportunity afforded to him by the Holy Spirit to share his testimony and the redemptive plan of Jesus Christ with those he encounters. He will do all of this as an engineer in a Muslim country. Ted’s identity as an engineer and not a “missionary” will allow him to have a hearing with people that would tune him out instantly if they saw him as a traditional missionary. The benefit here is that Ted is able to do all the things that a “missionary” does and more without using this title.
The term “missionary” carries with it great baggage in many parts of our globe. Images of the Crusades and Colonialism immediately spring into one’s mind when that word is spoken. We in the West often forget how long many civilizations have been in existence. The history of our country is minute compared to most around the world. Events that occurred over 500 years ago are still very present in the memory of these people. Therefore, we have to approach our task with wisdom and sensitivity.
The second part of this blog will deal with common objections to the use of 007 language. It will be forthcoming.
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